“386! Who’s got 386!?” The exasperated cry came from the end of the table. We had come so close. The charge to completion had thus far gone relatively hiccup-free. A factory line of ripping, peeling and sticking looked to be leading a group of men to adolescent glory. 538 stickers had already found their home in the sacred book. All the stars set to grace the tournament had been placed inside their squares. Even Rio Ferdinand, not “bovvered” about Euro 2012, found his way into the book. All the “shinys” had been unearthed and admired, the glittering prizes pasted onto the page with utmost precision. Yet in our excitement at a completed stickerbook we had missed 386. As the last-orders bell chimed, many of us had begun to cast our minds to which number bus we needed to get home. The number was 386. Niko Kranjcar of all people was stalling our sticking success.
This was the second Sabotage Times & Mother Panini night. Only a few brave figures had returned from the World Cup Panini night of two years ago, where boyish enthusiasm for football stickers was pushed to the limit into the late hours of the night. New blood had been drafted in, the squad bolstered with youth products to invigorate the vets who had suffered the slog two years earlier. Admitedly some were expecting a night of posh cheese toasties, yet most were familiar with the even greater delights of the Panini stickerbook. Fuelled by beer and chips the team set about the Euro 2012 task with renewed vigour. It only took minutes for the wooden floor to be submerged under a white tidal wave of peeled sticker backs. The task was approached with a youthful fervour most of us had not experienced since we were getting rid of our “swaps” on the Year 5 playground. Perhaps learning lessons from 2010, the team sorted out the thousands of stickers with the methodical organization one wouldn’t expect from a group of men who think playing with football stickers is a good way to spend a Tuesday night.
Fuelled by beer and chips the team set about the Euro 2012 task with renewed vigour. It only took minutes for the wooden floor to be submerged under a white tidal wave of peeled sticker backs.
Indeed, the group was received with looks of bafflement, disdain and pity by fellow pub –goers who had ventured to the upstairs toilets next to where we were sticking. Especially those heading for the ladies. Admittedly, if you were never inside the huddle on the playground of boys grabbing stickers off each other then you could never understand. Yet for those of us for whom the phrase “got, got, got , need” is just as enduring as “They think it’s all over!” or “It’s up for grabs now!” , the football sticker album will be the perfect vehicle for a footballing nostalgia trip. The years spent building up piles of swaps and saving up for a trip to the newsagents where also the same years you fell in love with the game as a young boy. The perhaps more (just slightly) mature football fan past-time of sitting in a pub with a pint was still in effect, yet the jovial and innocent scramble over stickers made a welcome change from the tactical debates and tribal arguments.
Joe, one of the new blood drafted into the squad, was given the nickname “the librarian”. This was not due to any apparent likeness to Lillian Thuram (also of the same moniker), but instead due to an apparent likeness to a librarian. “The librarian” was the visionary tactical force behind the Sabotage team, marshalling his troops into a cohesive unit. Boxes adorning the flags of the competing nations were lined down the long table. Stickers were to be sorted into the boxes. When a nation’s box looked full, it was to be transported to the end of the table. Here a crack team would stick the players in their place and sort out the swaps. The head of the table was responsible for sticking, taking pains to line up the epic four-part squad shot knee to knee, shoulder to shoulder, while he was flanked by further sorters, getting the stickers in the right order. All of this while eating chips, having a pint and chatting. Efficiency defined. If 2010’s chaotic yet ultimately triumphant effort resembled Argentina, this was pure Lothar Matthaus Germany.
“386! Niko Kranjcar!” Like a winning lottery ticket, Preecey lifted the sticker triumphantly.
At least it was. Then 386. Suddenly the unopened packs were hurled back onto the table and torn apart with frustrated fury. “Anyone found it?” someone would ask. “NO!” came the unanimous response. “Wait a minute…. What’s that Preecey?” Someone had pointed over to the pile of stickers that sat in front of David Preece’s seat. We peered over, both hoping our search had come to an end but also that we hadn’t bee so stupid. “386! Niko Kranjcar!” Like a winning lottery ticket, Preecey lifted the sticker triumphantly. Sheepishly however, we put the sticker into the book. Just like our love for Panini, we knew it had been there all along.
All images courtesy of Propergander
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